Ed Case: Strong Effective Leadership in Business and Government

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Ed Case

BY U.S. CONGRESSMAN ED CASE (2002-2007)(Remarks to Smart Business Hawai’i Annual Conference, Honolulu, January 11, 2012)

Fellow members of Smart Business Hawai’i, good morning and aloha!


I join you this morning wearing two hats.

One is as a thirty year lawyer and businessperson who has advised businesses through all manner of challenge, who has run both of my law businesses, and who knows firsthand what it’s like to balance a budget, make payroll, pay excessive and confusing taxes and deal with burdensome government.

The other is as a candidate for the critical position of your United States Senator, following years of service focused on helping small businesses as your U. S. Congressman and Hawai’i Representative. A candidate who believes deeply that Congress is not providing us with strong effective leadership.

Very few elected officials in our Hawai’i and no other candidate in this critical race has lived and worked in these two very different worlds. No other candidate in this election has walked routinely through the “Valley of Death”, as I always call it, the route between the worlds of business and government where neither has a clue about the other.

Yet this yawning chasm must be bridged. Because all in this room would agree that growing our economy and preserving and creating good jobs for all Americans must be our top priority. And all of us would agree that our government is too often the obstacle rather than part of the solution.

We cannot simply pretend that government doesn’t exist and opt out; it has grown too intrusive and impersonal. And we cannot simply assume that government will get it and fix things on its own; the majority of us, especially including small business, are not on DC’s inside‐the‐Beltway radar screen, and DC is paralyzed by a crippling inability to face and solve the nation’s challenges.

So what to do? Let me give you my own good news up front: as bad as it is, and though it will likely get worse this year, it is not destined to continue. That is our choice, and it starts with the folks we send to DC to represent us. Send folks who are supported by the way things are in DC, who live and die by that culture, and we’ll get more of the same. Send folks who understand your world and your challenges, and who are committed to a different way, and we can grow a critical mass inside the halls of Congress that can alter our country’s course.

It starts with an agenda, for, as we all know from our own business experiences, to get anywhere you have to start. I have an agenda for growing our economy, which I’ve handed out. Let me summarize my four main points:

(1) To truly grow our economy, we must not only focus in on specific business initiatives but squarely face all of our other challenges, especially balancing our federal budget.
(2) Both nationally and locally, we should focus on the Four Ts of tax reform, technology, trade and talent in the workplace.
(3) For Hawaii, we should focus not only on our bread and butter industries like tourism but promising new export industries like green energy, health care and education.
(4) We must focus always on the engine of growth, small business.

But an agenda doesn’t mean much unless it can be accomplished. And today’s Washington is the obstacle, so the question is how to accomplish an agenda for truly growing our economy.

Here the lessons of the world of business in which we all live and work are all over the place. It comes down always to strong effective leadership. That matters in both government and business: both thrive when they are led decisively and effectively, and both flounder when they are not.

Let’s break it down. First, strong. Strong does not mean dictatorial. But it does mean honest, as in acknowledging our challenges rather than denying them, and then charting a course and persevering through to a goal.

I entered Congress in 2003 when our national debt was about $6 trillion. It was obvious we were on a completely unsustainable path and, as a member of the U. S. House Committee on the Budget, I sounded the alarm with a few others and advocated for the sort of bipartisan processes and solutions now actively forwarded. We were met with a wall of denial; today national debt has exceeded $15.2 trillion. Would that our federal government been strong then, we would not be in this puka today.

Effective. We all know from our business lives that we look for every opportunity, every way, every idea to get things done. We all know that businesses whose cultures are rigid, who live in stovepiped worlds, who do things because they’ve always been done that way, seize up and fail.

Why should our federal government be any different? And yet DC lives and works in at least three stovepiped worlds: (1) the world of inside the beltway special interests versus the rest of us; (2) the world of insurmountable partisan division; and (3) the world of government versus business.

In the real world of business, success is about breaking down barriers, about reaching across differences, about forging partnership, about compromise where possible and reasonable. Why should government be any different?

But the most important ingredient is leadership, and that’s about making the decision. We know from our business lives that there comes a time to make the call and move forward. We know that business owners who stall at the moment of decision fail. We all know that if decisions aren’t made as they become ripe, they fester, accumulate and overwhelm.

This is our current path in Washington. I liken it to a busy air traffic controller; you have to land the planes. Today we have the planes of tax reform, budget reform, Social Security reform, immigration reform, and so many other challenges, which have not benefited from strong effective leadership in Congress, all stacked up there, but the controllers are unable or unwilling to land them.

None of this, of course, can continue. Our country needs strong effective leadership, and that means change. Our business community has the experience, the lessons, the ability, to provide the example. All that is missing is your involvement.
The decision you make on who will be your next U. S. Senator will be as critical a vote as you will every cast. I ask for your vote in the Democratic primary on August 11th. You have a crystal clear choice of candidates there, and we ask you to think about it carefully.

Mahalo for your consideration. I truly look forward to continuing to work with you and Hawaii’s great business community.